Home / History / Private Label Trade Names on American Pocket Watches: “Burlington Watch Co.” Part 4: Sparks of Potential and Talking Machines

Private Label Trade Names on American Pocket Watches: “Burlington Watch Co.” Part 4: Sparks of Potential and Talking Machines

Pictured: Cover, The Talking Machine Co. Catalog, c.1898.

The development of the Burlington Watch Company by Henry, Fred, and Gustavus Babson resulted from a series of events originating from the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

In 1893, 21-year-old Henry Babson left his home in Nebraska and secured a temporary job demonstrating Thomas Edison’s new “talking machines” at the Columbian Exposition. Patrons could listen to a musical recording for a nickel, frequently leaving them amazed at the magical device. A spark was ignited in the mind of Henry Babson, immediately recognizing the enormous potential of this new technology.

Within a year, Babson partnered with Leon Douglass to organize the Chicago Talking Machine Company to distribute Edison’s phonographs, gramophones, and recordings. In 1906, capitalizing on the success of this venture, Babson enticed his two brothers, Fred and Gustavus, to organize a new company to sell talking machines via mail-order advertising.

The Babson brothers quickly became experts on generating massive sales using strategic advertising techniques. As the company looked to diversify its products, the Babsons began discussing the potential of offering a high-grade watch using the same advertising that propelled the talking machine business. After corresponding with the Illinois Watch Company in nearby Springfield, the “Burlington Special” was born.

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